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 President Bill Clinton Discusses Northern Ireland Peace Pact (04-10-98)


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Clinton Praises Northern Ireland Peace Pact

U.S. will provide economic aid to Northern Ireland

clinton

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, April 10) -- President Bill Clinton praised the historic Northern Ireland peace agreement reached Friday, saying it offers "the best chance for peace in a generation."

"In the days to come, there may be those who will try to undermine this great achievement, not only with words but perhaps also with violence," Clinton told reporters. "All the parties and all the rest of us must stand shoulder to shoulder to defy any such appeals." (608K wav sound)

Clinton offered thanks to negotiators and said their vision and commitment had made real "the prayers for peace on both sides of the Atlantic."

"The path to peace is never easy," Clinton said. "They have chosen hope over hate, the promise of the future over the poison of the past."

Clinton said he believes there will be "very significant economic benefits" flowing to the people of Ireland if peace takes hold, but said there was no specific promise of U.S. aid. (384K wav sound)

More than 3,200 people have died in the conflict over the British-ruled province in the past 30 years. Negotiators did not provide many details of the agreement, but it calls for a new power-sharing assembly with Northern Ireland's Protestants and Catholics governing the province together.

Clinton expressed optimism the parties will honor the agreement, saying "they fought too hard over the details to violate them." A referendum is set for May on the proposal.

Administration and congressional sources tell CNN that an increase in U.S. economic aid to Northern Ireland is a virtual certainty now that the historic peace agreement has been struck.

White House officials say it is also now nearly definite that Clinton will visit Ireland and Northern Ireland during his European trip in mid-May.

Looking ahead, U.S. officials predict a mix of symbolic and financial assistance. In a statement, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said, "The friends of Ireland in the United States will do all we can to help."

Clinton's trip, for example, is likely to come just a few days before the May 22 referendum on the peace proposal.

Some in Congress, with the administration's blessing, also are pushing to increase the $20 million the United States now provides annually to the International Fund for Ireland. Proposals range from doubling it to $40 million to increasing it five-fold to $100 million.

Other possible U.S. assistance includes advisers to help integrate more Catholics into the police forces in Northern Ireland, which are now overwhelmingly Protestant and deeply mistrusted by Catholic organizations.

And there is talk of a symbolic U.S., or Irish-American private financial contribution to a new border-area university planned to foster better relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to the south.

Already, many U.S. companies take advantage of the highly educated English-speaking workforces in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, for services such as toll-free customer service lines for computer and other products. Many U.S. companies have been skittish about advertising or expanding those operations because of the uncertain political climate but could do so if a peace agreement takes hold.

Clinton helps broker the deal

Clinton worked the phones overnight, encouraging negotiators to reach a deal.

From shortly after midnight until around 5 a.m. EDT, the president was on the phone repeatedly with major players in the peace process.

Sources say Clinton made clear that U.S. economic aid and private investment by American firms would increase significantly if a peace agreement for Northern Ireland was struck.

He talked with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, and John Hume, Northern Ireland's major Catholic leader and a key architect of the peace process.

The president also spoke with former Sen. George Mitchell, Clinton's emissary who has overseen the Belfast talks for 22 months. Clinton also was expected to talk with Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble.

Asked what promises or assurances United States made to help move the process along, Clinton said, "All I have tried to do is to help create the conditions in which peace could develop, and then to do whatever I was asked to do or whatever seemed helpful to encourage and support the parties in the search for peace. And that's all I did last night."

Clinton has made a big effort in the peace process, visiting both Belfast and Dublin to urge reconciliation. He likely will return to Ireland in May as part of a trip to Europe for the annual summit of major industrialized nations. (704K wav sound)

Clinton said the lesson in the deal is the power of persistence.

"We got Bosnia and Haiti and now I hope Ireland," he said. "And I'll just keep working on it. The Irish thing ought to give you hope for the Middle East, because the lesson is, just don't ever stop."

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) hailed word of the deal, too.

"This is an extraordinary, historic day and it's a day of enormous hope," Kennedy said. "The possibilities of putting aside the bomb and the bullet for developing political institutions where differences can be resolved is just something that represents the hopes and dreams of millions of Irish Americans here in the United States, but I know represents the best hopes and dreams of those of two different traditions in Northern Ireland as well."

CNN's John King contributed to this report.
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